Article by Stefanie Payne. First published on The Greatest Road Trip.
A Snowy Winter Adventure in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Ohio is notoriously freezing, windy, and snowy during the winter. Weather like that is tough enough for the casual driver, but for two newbie RV’ers heading onto wilderness roads with a 27-foot trailer in tow, it’s a possible deal-breaker. Our Airstream is our home now—we want to keep it (and ourselves) safe so that we can continue having all of this fun that we are having this year. With that in mind, we heavily considered returning to Cuyahoga Valley National Park later in the year when the weather is likely to be more favorable. That would mean, though, driving several days out of our way to get there, not to mention turning the table holding our entire route on its side.
We chose to brave it, and are so glad that we did.
Cuyahoga was absolutely magical when we arrived. It was completely covered in snow. And not just any snow—but perfect, powdery, snow-blanketing-every-tree-and-surface kind of snow; can’t wait to build a snowman and make snow angels kind of snow. Softly falling from the quiet sky and landing on your nose and eyelashes type of snow. It was like a dream.
All of that beautiful snow erased some of visual clues that this park is located just a short distance from the urban centers of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, making Cuyahoga Valley somewhat of an urban national park. Unusually, there are residences within park boundaries, homes that existed there before the park was officially established in the year 2000.
This just makes you want to run and play, right?
Also inside the boundaries is an operating railroad servicing tours, art exhibits, orchestra music, small theatre productions, golf, community events, and a couple of restaurants. But when I say “urban,” I mean it lightly. The star of the show in Cuyahoga Valley really is nature. Residents and visitors consume the surroundings all year long by hitting jogging trails, bike paths, and nature trails. Kids sled hills, adults hit back-country on cross-county skis, dogs gallup through fields, otters frolic, coyotes trot, birds soar.
Our Centennial Snowman and Buddy Bison on a wonderful snowy day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
Our visit was all about the snow. We drove straight to a wide open field and built a snowman who we dressed in a National Park Centennial blanket that we purchased at the visitor center. Isn’t he handsome? (See left.) We marched on to Blue Hen Falls where we found the iconic waterfall solidified into a giant sheet of ice. We tried to find the unmarked Buttermilk Falls just down the trail that are rumored to be even more beautiful than Blue Hen, but became distracted after a snowball fight and found ourselves down the road at Beaver Marsh.
Beaver Marsh was a highlight during our visit, giving a sense that this is where we would walk, run, and bike on a regular basis if we lived in the area. Perhaps that feeling of fondness stemmed from the fact that this trail on the Ohio & Erie Canal is a northwestern offshoot of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal that we used to habituate while living in DC. It was our refuge when wanting to get out of the city and onto the trails. And just like we used to on the C&O, we chatted with others enjoying the scenery at Cuyahoga. We figure, if they are out there too, we have at least one shared interest. We met an avid birder looking for new species to mark off his list; chatted with a habitual trail-walker who is scared of chance coyote meetings; and said hello to cross-country skiers as they sloshed on by … we conversed with a lot of people that day, yet still found the peacefulness we were seeking to gain before hitting a long road to park #11.
33,000 acres | Urban national park between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio
Official name: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Established: October 11, 2000
How the park got its name: The park is named for the river that runs through it, the Cuyahoga River. The word Cuyahoga is believed to have been adapted from the Mohawk Indian word Cayagaga, meaning “crooked river.”
Iconic site in the park: Everett Covered Bridge is the only remaining covered bridge in Summit County, Ohio. In the 19th century Ohio was the nation’s leader in the construction of covered bridges, with more than 2,000 in the state. The picturesque white and red building against nature’s backdrop is a worthwhile photo op, and Furnace Run that runs beneath it is a fun wander as well. Look for wildlife tracks! Cuyahoga Valley National Park Map Cuyahoga Valley National Park Map
Accessible adventure: Walk along the towpath at Beaver Marsh, a designated Ohio Watchable Wildlife Area. This is one of the best areas in the park to see beaver, otter, muskrats, and birdlife come to life. The 1.5 mile trail is suitable for park-goers on wheels of all kinds (stroller, wheelchair, bicycle, etc.) and provides a diverse landscape including river and forest to explore.
Big adventure: Hit the trails. There are more than 125 miles of trails on terrain ranging from easy to challenging, passing through wetlands, wooded forest, and other habitats. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, Ohio’s Buckeye Trail, and Bike & Hike trails are all extensive and multi-purpose enabling you to create your own hike, horseback, snowshoe, and/or cross-country ski adventure.
Did you know?
Lock 27 along the Ohio & Erie Canal became known as “Johnnycake Lock” after several boats ran aground due to flooding. While stranded, supplies ran low and canal passengers and crew ate only corn meal pancakes, known as “johnnycakes”. Coincidentally, this is also what Stef calls Jonathan. 🙂 To permit cross-country skiing, the National Park Service does not plow the trail in the winter. The trail is open 24 hours, giving you the chance to explore after dark.
Dragonflies and damselflies look almost alike while flying. However, if you wait until they land, dragonflies lay their wings to the side while damselflies lay them back and above their bodies.
The 308-mile long Ohio & Erie Canal that runs through the park was dug by hand.
A young James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, worked briefly as a mule boy on the Ohio & Erie Canal, an important cultural resource within Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The Everett Covered Bridge and animal tracks crossing Furnace Run during a snowfall in winter, 2016.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Map